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ICRAC Delivers Statement to States Parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons at the UN in Geneva


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Posted on 14 November 2013
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by mbolton


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International Community Must Act Now to Ensure Combat Will Never Be Outsourced to “Killer Robots”! —

I am speaking on behalf of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), a founding NGO member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Since its establishment in 2009, ICRAC has urged the international community to discuss the prohibition of fully autonomous weapons systems – “Killer Robots” – in light of the pressing dangers they pose to global peace and security, in addition to their alarming humanitarian implications for civilians threatened with armed violence.

ICRAC is made up of experts in robotic technology, artificial intelligence, computer science, international security and arms control, ethics and international law. As an indication of our concentration of expertise, over 80% of our members have doctoral or Juris Doctor degrees. As such, ICRAC is available and willing to provide technical expertise to the High Contracting Parties as they engage in further discussions about fully autonomous weapons systems.

ICRAC has coordinated the circulation of a “Scientists Call” to ban fully autonomous weapons systems, signed by more than 270 Computer Scientists, Engineers, Artificial Intelligence experts, Roboticists and professionals from related disciplines in 37 countries, saying: “given the limitations and unknown future risks of autonomous robot weapons technology, we call for a prohibition on their development and deployment. Decisions about the application of violent force must not be delegated to machines.”

ICRAC urges High Contracting Parties to be guided by principles of humanity in its deliberations on existing and emerging weapons technologies –  taking into account considerations of human security, human rights, human dignity, humanitarian law and the public conscience, as well as the justified worries about robotic arms races and proliferation. This means meaningful human deliberation and control over the use of violence must remain the cornerstone of any eventual global policymaking on robotic weapons.

ICRAC welcomes the presentation of the Draft Mandate text enabling the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to convene expert meetings in 2014 to look at the challenges posed by fully autonomous weapons systems. ICRAC also welcomes the statements by more than 40 States which have expressed concerns about autonomous weapons systems. We believe the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons represents a useful forum to begin discussions, though dialogue about autonomous weapons systems need not be confined to this body alone. [END OF ORAL VERSION OF STATEMENT]

In light of our concerns, ICRAC respectfully submits the following recommendations to improve and strengthen the proposed Mandate on autonomous weapons systems before the body:

1)      It is not enough to consider only “lethal” autonomous weapons. We urge the body to broaden the Mandate to include consideration of all autonomous weapons systems, given that:

a) Arming autonomous systems with so-called “sub-lethal” or “less-than-lethal” weapons could still cause unnecessary suffering, and

b) Autonomous weapons systems could be potentially destabilizing even if they are only programmed to attack materiel, particularly if such systems interacted with each other in unexpected ways.

2)      By covering only “emerging technologies”, the Mandate may discourage High Contracting Parties from considering the implications of existing precursor autonomous systems that nonetheless raise unsettling humanitarian questions.

3)      While we welcome an Informal Meeting, a Mandate for a Group of Governmental Experts would more clearly send a message of the seriousness of this matter to the High Contracting Parties.

4)      As experts in this field, we believe the legal and ethical complexities of autonomous weapons systems will be difficult to cover adequately in three days. Thus we suggest amending the Draft Mandate to allow for a five (5) day meeting.

Delivered on behalf of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, by:

Matthew Bolton, MSc. (LSE), PhD (LSE).
Membership Secretary, International Committee for Robot Arms Control
Advisor, Article 36
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Pace University New York City.

For a PDF version of this statement, click here.

Video footage of the oral statement at the UN in Geneva is available for download here.


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Draft Arms Trade Treaty Omits Explicit Reference to ‘Unmanned’ Weapons


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Posted on 25 July 2012
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by mbolton


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On Tuesday morning, 24 July, the chair of the Diplomatic Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) released his long-awaited draft of an international instrument to regulate the trade in conventional weapons.

Unfortunately, as I explain in my commentary piece for Global Policy today, the draft treaty is…well…drafty. There are several major holes in the text that give states considerable room for maneuver at the expense of efforts to reduce human suffering in armed conflict.

In particular, the Scope of the ATT has been narrowed from some of the committee drafts, which aimed to regulate ‘all conventional arms, either manned or unmanned’ to the seven categories of arms covered by the UN Register on Conventional Weapons plus small arms and light weapons. The explicit reference to ‘unmanned’ weapons has disappeared and there are weak provisions for controlling technological systems with both potential dual uses — that could be weaponized. It is thus unclear whether the treaty would apply to Predator drones that have not yet been fitted with missiles.

If it passes, this draft ATT could establish norms against dealing arms — robotic or otherwise — to abusers of human rights and and humanitarian law. However, its lack of strong provisions in the Scope could also stymie efforts to regulate and constrain the  robotic weapons that are becoming increasingly popular in the military forces of industrialized countries.

UPDATE 30 July 2012: On 26 July, the chair of the conference released an updated draft of the treaty text, but it also failed to include strong provisions for unmanned systems, particularly dual use ones like drones. The next day, the conference collapsed as the US, Russia, China and a few authoritarian states stalled the negotiations. There is still a chance that a treaty, based on the draft text, will pass in the next year, but the exact shape of the Treaty and process for adoption is, as of  today, unclear.

Matthew Bolton, Department of Political Science, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Pace University New York City.


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